I’ve been on pause for a bit, for a variety of reasons. And one big reason, I needed to take some time, listen, learn, look inward and reflect on the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Racial injustices and police brutality is not something new, on the contrary, there is an undeniable pattern of hundreds of years of systemic racism and injustices and brutality.
On this site, I write about mental health, well-being, parenting, and self-care. I’ve used my platform, my voice to talk about a lot of things, but never racism. In media outlets, I’ve mentioned topics about trauma, grief, prejudices, negativity, suicide but, never racism. In my ‘off-platform’ life, I talk and teach about anti-racism, within my family, friends, in the therapy hour and with colleagues. In our home, we talk with our children about differences, inequalities, injustices, acceptance, kindness and compassion. I’ve taught my children about white privilege, racism, prejudices and how to speak up and stand up when they witness racism or other injustices in school, with a peer, in their community and the larger world.
And yet, something shifted in me this past month, looking within I asked myself, ‘Where else, where else do you need to do the work right now?’ And a few things came to mind: First, I need to educate myself on the depths of systemic racism from a non-white historical perspective. Second, I need to write about it. And third, I’m committing to more of a public role through activism. But before these decisions, I had this moment, asking myself, ‘You’ve never written about racism and anti-racism on this site, why?’ I need to do some reflecting on that one. But what I do know, is looking inward, within myself, as it is for anyone, the first step is in making a commitment to be anti-racist. What stood out to be as I listened and reflected, was the hashtag trending on social media #DoTheWork. Which framed it simply yet boldly; systemic racism begins with each of us looking inside and getting uncomfortable with our thoughts, beliefs and biases, addressing these ignored or buried parts of oneself, and doing the work to change the biases, the subtle and not so subtle ones.
Here is what I want to share with you, from my perspective as a mother, psychologist, and white woman that can be a barrier when addressing systemic and institutional racism and social injustices: we must examine how white privilege contributes to and maintains racism across our nation and the globe.
White privilege does not mean your life has been without challenge, or difficulty and without obstacles. White privilege is having protection, opportunities and being treated within a system-which includes communities, schools, housing, the criminal justice settings, and social setting like parks, neighborhoods, retail stores and places of employment, without your skin color contributing to difficulties in your life.
If you read up until this point, I want you to pause for a minute and check-in with yourself. What are you feeling right now? Are you feeling guilty, or defensive, or angry or overwhelmed or confused? Maybe all of these things? Be honest with yourself. And no judgment here. Feel what you feel, embrace it, allow your discomfort to motivate how you’d like to go deeper within and further understand racism and actively work to be anti-racist.
Here Are 8 Ways to Address Racism and Teach Your Kids How to Be Anti-Racist.
Listen with an Open Heart and Mind. Healing in any shape or form happens when an individual feels safe, heard, listened to and attempts are made to sympathize and support. When a person is hurting, suffering and enduring pain because of racism and social injustices, for their entire life, and for generations, what is damaging and insulting is to dismiss the reality of someone’s experience. Just because you didn’t experience it, or witness it, or can’t believe the horrific details of racist incidents and interactions, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Part of the pain and injustice of racism is when black people have to convince white people of racial injustices and brutality.
Change Happens When You’re Uncomfortable. Ok, for a minute, let me make a general statement. Psychologically and behaviorally, people decide to make a change in their lives when a situation, or experience creates enough discomfort that they seek out new ways of thinking or behaving. This process of being uncomfortable can be the catalyst the agent needed to bring an awareness and commitment to change. So if you’re uncomfortable, I understand. Take a moment, many moments, and let that discomfort guide you to make changes to understand what you can do differently from this moment on. It is not enough to declare, ‘I’m not racist.’ Instead, commit to being anti-racist and teaching your children and family active ways how to do so.
Do Not Place the Burden of Understanding Racism on the Black Community. Systemic racism has been going on for hundreds of years, and asking the Black community to educate and help you understand racism is not only not helpful, it is exhausting and insensitive. Let me share a bit more. Do not ask your Black friend, colleague, or acquaintance to teach you or help you understand systemic racism. This is what is referred to as asking Black people to do the heavy lifting and to carry the emotional labor to teach you about suffering and oppression. In reality, racism has been happening all along, and perhaps only now are you aware of how deeply woven it is into every facet of our nation. So what does this mean? Well, for starters, what you can do is this; listen and learn and educate yourself about history and injustices from those in the Black community who are using their voices in books, lectures, on social media, with activism and in television and film. Take the time to be still, listen and learn about the historical facts, events and parts of history that wasn’t taught in school, written from the white perspective.
Educate Yourself with an Open Mind. A popular hashtag on social media trending end of May was #DotheWork. This hashtag is a call to action for individuals who want to combat systemic racism and actively work on being anti-racist to begin by looking within and examining personal beliefs, actions, and lack of actions that overtly, or directly contributed to keeping racism in our communities, schools, institutions, places of worship, and places of employment, creating societal inequalities and systemic racism. Just because you haven’t observed racism, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Understanding and being curious about the perspectives and experiences of anyone I believe is an important life skill to cultivate. And now more than ever, in order to dismantle systemic racism, each of us, must do the work, and understand the perspectives and experiences of the current and historical perspectives of the Black community.
Manage Your Emotions and Thoughts. I want to share something I believe is key when looking within and examining yourself from a psychological, emotional, and spiritual perspective- you have to find a way to manage your emotional reactions-whether it is defensiveness, denial, dismissing, anger, sadness, guilt, overwhelm or helplessness. You have to find a way to take care of what you’re thinking and feeling personally about the situation. Open your heart, with the desire to understand Black history, systemic racism, and what it is like to live in the world as a Black person today, historically and the impact on how to navigate every day life.
Look Inward Acknowledge Your Bias So You Can Teach + Guide Your Children. In order to talk and teach your children about racism, you have to understand yourself and explore your implicit bias. This doesn’t mean you have to wait and delay talking about racism. You can start the conversation today. But know, like anything else, if you’re not familiar with, or have unresolved issues or biases around racism, then be very mindful what this stirs up in you. Towards the end of the post are valuable resources for you and how to teach your child to be anti-racist.
Seek Out Diversity and Bring it Into Your Home and Community. This can happen in a number of ways, through cultural and diverse experiences within communities, conversations, cultivating friendships and engagement through social media, books, films, diverse museums and organizations. Bring diverse books and toys in to your home and have an on-going dialogue with your child and family about diversity. Children as young at age four are emotionally and cognitively capable to learn about anti-racism.
Become an Activist. And not just this one time, but make activism part of your mission to help dismantle systemic racism. This can be in the form of protests, donating and becoming involved in organizations fighting racism. Join their list-servs, forums, sign up for newsletters. One of the themes I hear in the black community is the weariness felt when white people become enraged with a racial injustices when racism is front and center in the news. Only soon after, whether it be weeks or a few months, go back to everyday living, once again putting blinders up to racism. Follow and participate in organizations working to address racism and make policy changes.
Before I share resources to help you navigate how to teach your kids and yourself how to be anti-racist, here I want emphasize: doing the work to understand systemic racism is not something you can do like going through a checklist-and then you’re done, voila! You’re no longer contributing to racism. That’s not how it works.
Combating personal racism, prejudices, oppression and implicit bias, is a practice, a skill, an act of mindfulness to be worked on throughout one’s life. So you don’t have to figure it out all right now, but keeping an open mind, a compassionate heart, and having a commitment to see change and equality in humanity, is where you need to to start.
What you can do today, is to acknowledge how you’re feeling, and pay attention to over-focusing on guilt, anger and defensiveness, all of which will keep you stuck perpetuates systemic racism. Take a few deep breaths, be committed to help combat anti-racism, in your life, in your heart and mind, and in your home and teach your children how to be anti-racist.
Here are some resources to help you begin teaching yourself and your children how to be anti-racist:
Powerful Personal Essays from Black Parents:
You Asked, I Answered: 7 Difficult Questions About Racism,from the author, Shola Richards in response to his powerful essay, a must read, Why I Will Never Walk Alone.
Talking and Teaching Your Child About Race:
An article on NPR on how white parents can talk to their kids about race. How White Parents Can Talk to Their Kids About Race.
From books, to podcasts, to articles on how to talk to your kids about racism, and how to understand social, cognitive, emotional child development as it relates to racism, Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race .
“How Studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion” | Peggy McIntosh at TEDxTimberlaneSchools
Activism for Anti-Racism:
My hope is that after reading this post, you’ll be inspired to do the work in your life and make a practice in your life to be anti-racist. And I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts, reactions and journey.
© Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2020